Father Randy Mattox, shown here petting his dog Noah in the sanctuary lobby, is the new pastor at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Conyers, replacing Father John Kieran who led the church for 17 years. (Staff Photo: Karen Rohr)
When local parishioners are expecting a visit from their priest, they often open the door and there stands Noah. They extend their hand to him as he greets them with a big smile and walks in — wagging his tail. Noah is the golden retriever that accompanies Father Randy Mattox almost everywhere he goes.
As the new priest at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Conyers, Mattox has been busy visiting and getting to know many of the 1,800-plus families in his parish and Noah has been a constant companion.
“I’ve had him for seven years,” Mattox said. “He goes with me everywhere and he loves people.”
Noah offers his paw to friends as a way of saying “hello.”
It has been an entertaining way getting to know church members and for them to get to know their new priest. Mattox replaces Father John Kieran, who retired last year after 17 years at St. Pius.
When Kieran retired, he said he was leaving the church in the hands of a friend. Mattox, who at the time was at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Ellijay, had become a Catholic in Kieran’s former parish in LaGrange in the 1990s, and the retired priest had confirmed him into the church.
In addition, Mattox served St. Pius as a seminarian under Kieran’s leadership a number of years ago. Seminarians, who are in school all year, are invited to serve in parishes for the summer.
A native of Marietta, Mattox, 47, grew up as an Episcopalian. He graduated from Joseph Wheeler High School and began his studies at Emory University in Atlanta. While majoring in religion at Emory, Mattox began thinking about become a priest in the Episcopal Church.
With college behind him, he went to work as a mental health specialist at Charter Peachford Hospital in Atlanta. Although his work was interesting, he continued to think about his place in ministry.
“I had a supervisor who taught me about the Blessed Mother and that pretty much led me to the church,” Mattox said of the co-worker, who was Catholic and talked to him about the “Hail Mary” prayer.
Mattox began attending both the Episcopal and Catholic churches, but once he decided to continue attending mass at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, he chose to pursue the discernment program individuals go through who are converting to the faith. Kieran was the pastor of the church and encouraged the young man to pray about his decision. Mattox said he not only felt led to become a Catholic, but was also being led to preach.
He became a Catholic in 1994, and continued his education at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, La. He became a priest June 2, 2001.
Mattox is the first priest in his family and his family of Episcopalians did not embrace the idea at first.
“The more I talked about it, the more they understand it now,” Mattox said. “They have been supportive.”
Mattox left a small parish in Ellijay to serve the much larger parish in Conyers, but said the people have made him feel welcomed.
“It’s a great parish,” he said. “It’s very dynamic. There are lots of things going on and a lot of different cultures. It’s great.
“I’m learning about everything and meeting everybody. I’m also learning about the different ministries and getting to know the place.”
Mattox will be especially busy during the Easter season. He said the church will have the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday and services on Easter Sunday.
For relaxation, in addition to spending time with Noah, Mattox also likes sewing, cooking and computers. He also enjoys traveling and has been to the Vatican.
“I’ve been a couple of times,” he said. “It is wonderful and amazing. There’s so much history. It’s a beautiful place. I have a pilgrimage planned in November.”
Mattox is also enthusiastic about the 226th pope, who celebrated his first year anniversary as supreme pontiff last month.
“Pope Francis is great,” he said. “He cares about the poor and evangelizing and has done a great job.”
Founded in 1974, as a Roman Catholic parish of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, St. Pius X Catholic Church is located at 2621 Georgia Highway 20 in Conyers.
Mass is celebrated the first Saturday of the month at 8:30 a.m. and each Saturday at 5 p.m. On Sundays, mass is at 8:30 a.m. with the folk choir; 11 a.m. with the adult choir; 1:30 p.m. in Spanish and at 5 p.m. with the contemporary ensemble.
The weekday mass schedule is Monday through Friday at 8:30 a.m. except at 11:30 a.m. on the first Friday. Mass is celebrated on Mondays at 6:30 p.m., as well.
During the season of lent, mass is also celebrated on Wednesdays at 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Beth Slaughter Sexton is a freelance writer based in Gwinnett County. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.